A 670,000 square metre food base has been launched in southwest China for migrating elephants amid hopes the “dining hall” will help resolve conflicts between local residents and wild elephants.

Officials in Jinghong, in Yunnan province, launched the food court for migrating elephants after a herd of 14 Asian elephants — originally 17 in number — trekked almost 500 kilometres across the country this summer.

The Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday that the construction of the food base – also known as ‘Elephants’ dining hall’ — was launched in December last year and completed in May at the cost of $15 million.

Cha Wei, the deputy director of Jinghong Nature Reserve Management Office told Xinhua that the “dining hall” has a large number of plants and five salt pools to meet the needs of wild Asian elephants.

Mr Cha was quoted as saying that the food base was established with the customary tracks of wild Asian elephants in mind. “We finally chose the nation-owed forest where Asian elephants regularly pass by.”

Mr Cha added that “if provided with enough food, the elephants will not break into villages and croplands to forage, which can help resolve conflicts between local people and wild elephants.”

The herd of Asian elephants, whose year and a half trek across the country captured everyone’s imagination, is now living in the woodland in Mojiang county of Puer city, a part of their traditional habitat, local authorities confirmed last month.

Officials said that “all the elephants are within the monitoring range and in stable condition.”

Meanwhile, the ‘Elephants’ dining hall’ is stocked with at least 38,000 banana trees and saltwater ponds. Mr Cha said: “The project is meant to improve the quality of Asian elephants’ habitat, enrich their food sources and provide them with more to eat.”

“After the completion of the project, elephants will be able to eat at the base. This can stop them from foraging in villages and damaging farmers’ crops,” he added.

The Asian elephant is a Grade-1 species of wild animal under China’s priority conservation. The Global Times reported that “the number of Asian elephants in Jinghong has increased from 85 at the end of the last century to 185, causing an overlap in living area between elephants and local residents.”

Experts have predicted that the herd of Asian elephants that returned home last month is “highly likely” to hit the road again in the future.

“Elephants have no sense of boundaries, nor do they know the boundary of a [human defined] natural reserve,” Shen Qingzhong, an expert with the management bureau of Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, home of the stray elephants was quoted as saying by the Shangyou News. “Attracted by food or others, they are highly likely to migrate again.”

The herd of elephants started their journey in March last year. Three of them left the group and headed back halfway, and a baby elephant was born during the journey in December.

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